Sultan School District's Dave Moon (center), seen here with June Farwell and Dan Chaplik, says even nontechies can power up MultiPoint Server 2010 in roughly 15 minutes.

Jul 12 2010

Point Taken

Early adopters give Windows MultiPoint Server 2010 high marks as a cost-saving desktop virtualization tool.

Early adopters give Windows MultiPoint Server 2010 high marks as a cost-saving desktop virtualization tool.

As if on cue, Microsoft is offering an assist to the many school districts challenged to do more with less.

Windows MultiPoint Server 2010 – announced in November 2009 and released in February – allows roughly a dozen high-definition workstations to run simultaneously from a single host PC.

The shared-resource computing software simulates the experience of operating a dedicated machine by giving users access to their own Windows 7 desktop sessions via a monitor and USB-enabled keyboard and mouse. Workstation components plug in to a breakout box, which also connects to the MultiPoint server via USB. Only the monitors require external power, significantly reducing overall energy and cooling costs.

Early adopters such as Sultan (Wash.) School District confirm Microsoft's assertion that MultiPoint Server is friendly enough for nontechnical teachers to install and manage themselves. According to Dave Moon, the district's technology coordinator, the actual setup time and expertise needed to deploy a server hosting seven desktops was a fraction of what's typically required for seven physical machines.

“From out of the box to program installation was around 15 minutes,” Moon says. “MultiPoint's easy-to-follow graphical user interface walks you through a few simple steps, so you can just sit back and watch the server install happen. Then you identify each workstation by hitting a key, and hardware setup is done.”

As a small district with an IT staff of only two and a half people serving 2,000 students and 235 employees, “such a fast deployment is definitely a win for us,” he adds.

Last January, the five-school district received three beta units from Microsoft and deployed one each at the elementary, middle and high school level. “Since installation they've been on cruise control,” Moon says.

Love at First Sight

According to June Farwell, computer lab instructor and para-educator for Sultan Elementary School – one of two K–5 schools in the district – MultiPoint is enhancing learning experiences in several ways.

“We're in an interior room with only the air exchanger for cooling,” Farwell says of the school's computer lab. Thanks to MultiPoint, “it's so much cooler and quieter” with fewer machines, which “helps the students focus and concentrate.”

Better still, they're eager to use the new technology. “Students are more engaged by the latest operating system,” Farwell says. “Our other computers run Windows XP, so having both XP and Windows 7 in the lab helps them learn how to navigate multiple operating systems, which they'll face throughout their lives.”

Students are so excited by the shared-computing experience that Farwell “had to establish a rotation to ensure everyone had a turn,” she continues. “Because I was unfamiliar with Windows 7, I was hesitant to be a MultiPoint beta site. But it really is ‘click, click' and away you go.”

A Lifeline and a Game Changer

MultiPoint Server is also providing a technology lifeline to the Sultan School District as it strives to trim a half-million dollars from the 2010–2011 budget. “MultiPoint gives us the opportunity to save money while providing students with a modern collaboration tool,” says Superintendent Dan Chaplik. “We've already seen students doing some amazing things as they interact [via MultiPoint] to create a PowerPoint presentation or work on a robotics project.”

Going forward, “we foresee collabo­ration among students locally, in other districts and internationally [being] key to education,” he adds. “MultiPoint helps enable that for us.”

Industry experts agree that desktop virtualization is poised to be a game changer for education. “Shared-resource computing extends the power of desktops without additional cost,” says Bill Rust, a research director for Gartner. “It gives teachers a higher degree of control over their classroom systems without [infringing upon] their time or classroom activities.”

Desktop virtualization also provides additional computing access without taking up precious classroom real estate. “You can have a group of workstations in a compact space,” he points out, “so it's a good multiplier.”

At the same time, Rust cautions against viewing MultiPoint as a one-size-fits-all solution. “Shared-resource computing wasn't intended to replace full desktops,” he says. “There are computer-intensive applications that will stress out a shared system.”

The bottom line, Rust concludes, is that MultiPoint is “like any other computing technology. The two biggest mistakes you can make are relying on it solely or not using it at all.”

Full Steam Ahead

Officials at the six-school, 3,400-student Alvarado (Texas) Independent School District consider MultiPoint Server a slam dunk. “In our beta classroom, where we have space for only one physical machine, students now have five times the access to learning applications and the web – at far less cost,” says Kyle Berger, the district's executive director of technology services.

How much less? “We calculated a 46 percent initial cost savings for a five-workstation MultiPoint cluster,” Berger says. “We also measured a power savings of 79 percent; the energy cost reduction alone could subsidize 21 more workstations.”

The percentage of Alvarado Independent School District's estimated maintenance and support cost savings from using Windows MultiPoint Server 2010 over a five-year desktop refresh cycle

Given such phenomenal benefits, Berger says Alvarado ISD will deploy MultiPoint Server in all of its first- through third-grade classrooms and elementary school labs during the 2010–2011 school year. “MultiPoint is dramatically expanding the computing possibilities for our district,” he says. “We plan to standardize on HP MultiSeat servers to further streamline IT capital, operating and management costs.”

Sultan School District, meanwhile, is planning its own expanded rollout of MultiPoint Server. “We're sold on the technology,” Moon says. “We'll fully deploy it in our elementary school computer labs and at other locations in all our schools.”

As both districts proceed with full-scale rollouts, Moon and Berger say they will adhere to the best practices developed during their beta experience. They, along with Gartner's Rust, recommend the following:

  • Size servers correctly. Deploy servers with sufficient CPU performance resources to ensure a positive user experience.
  • Enable external file transfer. Provide USB hubs so students can transfer to the network files that were created elsewhere or leverage the web for uploading.
  • Build in redundancy. Protect users from system failures by having backup servers on hand that can be swapped in if the main server goes down.
  • Evaluate the total cost of ownership up front. Although MultiPoint Server offers some obvious savings, it's important to run the numbers to maximize your reduction in hardware, energy consumption and IT operating costs.
  • Pick the right tool for the job. Virtualized desktops work best for running applications that are neither computation- nor graphics-intensive. Also, update all applications to ensure they will work in a 64-bit Windows 7 environment.

Top 5

Which features do MultiPoint Server's early adopters most appreciate?

It simplifies infrastructure while saving money. MultiPoint consolidates multiple physical PCs into one, reducing overall hardware, power, cooling and operating expenses.

It expands access and collaboration. MultiPoint permits multiple students to access computing applications simultaneously for independent or collaborative work – all within a diminutive footprint.

It offers individualized computing. MultiPoint simulates the experience of using a dedicated PC running Windows 7.

It's teacher-friendly. MultiPoint is designed so that even nontechnical users can easily install and maintain it. The solution includes a management console that automatically troubleshoots common problems, such as an unplugged mouse.

It can be configured as a stand-alone or networked solution. MultiPoint allows schools to create local accounts on the server for each user or plug in to an existing school network – without any additional networking infrastructure investments.

<p>Rick Dahms</p>